Well, not as old as yesterday’s iPads. But the non-pro iMacfinally received an update to its internals after a little more than a year and a half. This update was also delivered via press-release, ahead of Apple’s upcoming press event on the 25th which is rumored to be exclusively about their video streaming service.
Not to belabor the point, but the iMac is the only remaining new Apple product that features a spinning hard drive. It’s also the only Mac in a couple of years to receive an update and not include an Apple-designed ARM processor for security and other features. (The two are probably related—so far as I can tell, Apple has designed the T2 to only use flash storage.)
Spinning disks had a good run, but they’re old tech. They’re far less reliable than flash storage drives, and are also generally much slower. The $1299 base-model 4K iMac ships with a slow 5400 rpm spinning disk. It’s almost unforgiveable.
I agree with Snell, it isn’t fair for Apple’s most price-sensitive customers to end up with unreliable and outdated storage methods. You can’t easily upgrade that storage at home, once you realize how slow that 5200 RPM drive is.
There is still a non-Retina, 21”, iMac at $1100. That iMac joins the non-RetinaMacBook Air in the land of Macs that Apple forgot.
This may well be the year of the Mac Pro, but it is extremely unlikely that the successor to the trashcan Mac Pro (I actually thought it looked kind of cool) will be below $5,000. It’s still a frustration that there aren’t reasonably priced, modular, Macs that can compete for desktop performance without the built-in displays of the iMac line, or the workstation parts, and price, of the Pro-lineup of desktops.
The iPad Mini 5 is the 7.9 inch device that can fit into the pocket of your Jnco Jeans, as long as you can track a pair down. Unfortunately the Jnco Jeans business doesn’t appear to be going well and their website is offline.
The iPad Air was last updated almost 5 years ago, with the 2nd generation model and is suspiciously 10.5”. You might remember a 10.5” iPad Pro that was replaced with the 11” model last October. That’s where this 3rd generation iPad Air form-factor is from.
Both devices get the A12 system-on-a-chip (SOC) from the latest iPhones, but not the A12X from the latest iPad Pros. So they won’t be quite as powerful, and we won’t have any benchmarks or information about clockspeeds and amount of RAM until reviewers get their hands on these updated models.
Both devices also get support for Apple’s stylus, but not the cool new one from the 2018 iPad Pros.
Both new-old hybrid iPads have the classic big-bezel design, not the new iPad Pro/iPhone X design with minimal bezels around the edges that’s neccessary for 2nd-generation Apple Pencil stylus.
That new Apple Pencil charges and when it is magnetically held-in-place to one side of those new Pros. The new Apple Pencil also has one flat side, so it won’t roll off a table. The 1st generation Apple Pencil supported by these newly updated tablets with old form-factors still has all of those first-generation Apple Pencil issues and is ready and willing to roll off your table and get lost under the couch.
Not receiving any updates today is the 2018 iPad Cheap, which still has an A10 SOC, older (pre-Air 2) display technology, and the same 1st generation Apple Pencil support.
This old Apple Pencil support is almost vindictive at this point. Why does Apple want to punish lower-end iPad users with a worse stylus experience? Why sell people a stylus that probably won’t work with the next iPad they buy?
If these iPads are the future of labor, entertainment, and creative expression, Apple needs to treat the people buying these devices better. All iPads should have a similar design, and flat sides so they can support the same stylus that won’t roll off the table.
Lets revisit our oldest friend, with an updated logo, the table of confusing iPad decisions:
2018 iPad Cheap at 9.7″
non-laminated (thicker) display
Supports the ($100) Apple Pencil.
Old-ass 1st generation Touch ID.
32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
iPad Mini 5 at 7.9″
laminated (thinner) display
Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
1st-gen Apple Pencil Support
2nd (presumably)-generation Touch ID
64GB ($400) for the WiFi-only model, 256GB ($550)
64GB with Cellular ($530), 256GB with Cellular ($680)
iPad Air 3 at 10.5″
laminated (thinner) display
Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
2017-era iPad Pro Smart Connector
1st-gen Apple Pencil Support
2nd (presumably)-generation Touch ID
64GB ($500) for the WiFi-only model, 256GB ($650)
64GB with Cellular ($630), 256GB ($780)
iPad Pro at 12.9″
laminated (thinner) display
Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
With Cellular: 64GB ($950) 256GB ($1100) 512GB ($1300) 1TB ($1700)
All of the new models are available now in most countries.
It’s good that the iPad Mini form-factor has finally been updated, and there’s a mid-tier for people who want a 10-ish-inch iPad with better parts than the iPad Cheap, without spending the $800 for an 11” iPad Pro. This is a complicated line-up, but there are finally clear “best” iPads with the Pro devices which have the ProMotion variable frame-rate that make for an extremely smooth visual experience. Scrolling through app icons on the home screen is ridiculous on devices with that high framerate.
The year-old iPad Cheap with it’s A10 SOC is probably still fine for most people, but I would think twice before buying it for myself.
The cheapest option for an iPad will always be a refurbished or used model, but I would steer clear of the 5 and 4-year-old previous models of iPad Mini 4 and iPad Air 2. ProMotion is also on the older 2017 iPad Pro models.
Hopefully this year’s WWDC event will bring some announcements of changes in iOS 13 to properly support more advanced workflows beyond the simple Siri Shortcuts available to us today. These devices have never been more unbalanced in terms of how much functionality the hardware could support, and how little iOS is taking advantage of the hardware.
If you use Apple Music, the streaming music service from Apple that gives artists pennies instead of dollars, and want to listen on your computer, Musish is open source, runs in your web browser, and a much better alternative to running the full desktop iTunes instance if you don’t need to listen to a locally-stored collection of music.
Musish appears to log in to your Apple ID via an Apple-supplied authentication system. Very handy, I look forward to using this on Linux, where iTunes isn’t available at all.
Apple has witnessed how the Mac mini has gone from being the best Mac it could build for $499 to one that’s a vital tool for professional and home users in a variety of contexts. And so, after a long time in the wilderness, the Mac mini has at last been updated—the right way. The last time the Mac mini got updated, Apple took away the highest-end configurations. This time, the Mac mini has been built with those many niche uses in mind.
Just when we thought it was dead, after several years of essentially no updates, the MacBook Air has returned with a new version that’s clearly inspired by the classic design. It’s been so long since the last major MacBook Air update, in fact, that most of the “new” features on this device are simply a recap of all the changes Apple has made to other Macs the past few years, finally rolled into this one: a new keyboard, Retina display, Force Touch trackpad, Apple-designed T2 processor, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, “Hey Siri”, and Touch ID.
Surprise! The definitive Mac of the 2010s is going to survive this decade. And while this MacBook Air is dramatically different from previous models in many ways, it’s also got a bunch of familiar touches that make it undeniably a MacBook Air. Like its predecessors, it’s not the computer for everyone… but it will probably be the most popular laptop among the (count ‘em) six models Apple currently offers.
He also has video reviews of both, and it sounds like they’re both good computers, even if they miss out on some features of older models like MagSafe which has saved my laptops many times.
There’s reason to think that Apple’s custom ARM processors, which now outperform many of their Mac computers in some benchmarks, are coming to replace Intel’s chips. These models, and any speed bumps they get in the next few years, might be some of the last Intel-based Apple updates.
Apple’s laptop situation isn’t great. Earlier this year they released new 2018 MacBook Pros that may have allieviated some of the issues with the reliability of 2016/2017 model keyboards. At the same time they also acknowledged the issue and offered extended repairs for three years for anyone who bought those devices.
Last week, the only laptop Apple sold with USB type-A ports was the MacBook Air. It was oddly placed in the product line, because it was actually heavier than some of the other laptop models and was their only device with a screen that wasn’t high-enough of a resolution to be deemed Retina.
Cook introduced the new Air with this video before handing the device’s introduction off to Apple’s VP of Engineering, Laura Legros:
Finally, finally, the MacBook Air, 2018, has a Retina screen. It also has Touch ID authentication through a single dedicated spot on the keyboard (without the Pro’sTouch Bar,) two USB Type-C connectors with Thunderbolt 3, a new keyboard, Hey Siri hotword detection, and an entirely new body with much thinner bezels around the 13.3″ screen.
Legros said that this was the “greenest Mac Ever” with 100% recycled aluminum, and then introduced this video:
This Air is also more expensive, starting at $1,200 for the base model with 8GB of RAM, a paltry 128GB SSD, and a 1.6 GHz dual-core i5 that can boost to 3.6 Ghz.
If you want 16 gigs of RAM and a 512GB SSD you’re looking at an $1800 MacBook Air. There is even a 1.5TB SSD option that brings the price up to $2,600!
Yow. Legros called this “…the most affordable Retina Mac we’ve ever offered.”
My impression is that this is the laptop that Apple wants to compete with the new 2018 iPad Pro for the future of labor and entertainment.
The 2018 MacBook Air can be purchased online now, or it’ll be in stores on the 7th of November.
The 2017 Air is still for sale, if you want Type-A USB ports and a non-Retina screen at a lower $1000 price.
If I needed to replace my MacBook Pro and wasn’t onboard with the XCode-less iPad, I’d get this Air in a second.
The 2018 Mac Mini
Speaking of overdue updates, it has been four years since the Mac Mini was last updated.
Cook came back out to introduce the 2018 Mac Mini with this sci-fi trailer:
After the video Tom Boger, Apple’s head of Mac Marketing walked onstage to talk about this updated Mini.
Boger specified that the new Mini doesn’t use “mobile parts” but didn’t call the CPU a desktop processor. It’s a 3.6Ghz Quad-Core processor to start.
Spinning disk options are gone in favor of SSD’s, internally. The external design is extremely similar to the old Mac Mini except Apple in 2018 is attacking the the port situation differently. The 2018 Mac Mini has just two USB 3 type-A ports, one HDMI 2.0, four USB type-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports, one ethernet port, and one”3.5 mm headphone” jack that looks particularly awkward to access between and just below the USB Type-A ports as reader basscomm points out.
Just like the Air, you can order a Mini today and they’ll be generally available on the 7th. They start at $800, the configuration I’d go with is the 3.2GHz i7 with 16 GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. That configuration is $1700.
The most expensive configuration you could do is the same CPU with 64GB of RAM, 2TB of SSD, 10 Gigabyte ethernet instead of Gigabit, and that is $4,200!
The cheapest iMac Pro is $800 more at $5000, but it starts with a much more reasonable 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. That is a machine that could last ten years or more.
This mini is also supposed to be made of 100% recycled aluminum.
Angela Ahrendts spoke about retail Apple Stores, and specifically the Today at Apple series of classes for people to learn how to create with Apple devices. Ahrendts introduced new classes, and talked about the renewable energy resources that power the stores.
The 2018 iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″
Cook returned to talk about iPad sales, and showed this chart to demonstrate how Apple had sold more iPads in 2017 than “…the entire notebook lineup of all of the biggest notebook manufacturers.” Look at this chart, it has one notable exception missing from it:
Cook went on to boast that “…this makes iPad not only the most popular tablet, but the most popular computer in the world.”
Heavily rumored, and now proven to be correct, there is a new iPad Pro in two sizes: 11″ and 12.9″. They have no lightning ports, instead there is one USB Type-C port and a new “Smart Connector” that works with a new Apple keyboard case as well as a new Pencil stylus. Here’s the video that Cook used to introduce the new iPad:
The new iPad Pro tablets have a much smaller bezel, with Face ID that works in both landscape and portrait orientations. Just like the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max, the home button has been replaced with gestures. The new iPad Pro still has an LCD screen, but it also has curved edges like the iPhone XR. Apple’s John Ternus reintroduced this concept, again calling it Liquid Retina.
The 11″ iPad Pro has the same physical width and height as the old 10.5″ garbage iPad Pro that can now be safely disposed of in the nearest fire before you upgrade. The 12.9″ iPad Pro is a smaller package than the old 12.9″, because of the edge-to-edge-ish design of the new Pro’s. The new 12.9″ iPad Pro is also a full millimeter thinner than the older 12.9″ design.
Both new iPad Pros have a look on the sides that resembles my favorite iPhone design, the 4S’s solid edges. They also both have an A12X system-on-a-chip instead of the A10X that last year’s design had.
The AnnX chips are supposed to focus on graphics performance, Ternus compared the new iPad to the equivilent of a portable Xbox One S.
Dropping the lightning port for USB type-C allows the iPad Pro to connect to other USB devices and external displays. No support was expressed for USB peripherals like mice, keyboards, or external storage options. Instead, it was demonstrated almost solely as a camera connector and for charging your iPhone which still ships with a type-A cable that can’t plug into any of the current generation of Apple laptops.
The Pencil stylus is particularly interesting, it magnetically anchors to the side of the iPad Pro and it also has contact charging. The 2018 Pencil has a new action accessible by double-tapping its side. The new ApplePencil stylus is $130.
I’m curious about the usability of Apple’s new folio keyboard for the iPad Pro. They specifically called out that it could switch between two angles. One for use at a desk, and one for use on your lap. That functionality is exactly what I’ve been looking at third-party keyboards for, replacing all laptop usage scenarios. The new iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Folio is $180 for the 11″ iPad Pro, and $200 for the 12.9″. That is a lot. To compare, the Brydge keyboard that turns the 2017 iPad Pro 12.9″ into a clamshell-style laptop while supportting way more angles of operation is $150.
Apple showed off a free-to-play game from Ubisoft called Assassin’s Creed Rebellion and said it was at 120 frames-per-second. Then they said that it was something that “no console could deliver.” That is sort of true in the sense that the game looks like Ubisoft’s take on Fallout Shelter and TV displays don’t really exist to take advantage of higher frame-rates from consoles as far as I know.
Greg Thomas from Take Two’s 2k Sports division talked about NBA 2k Mobile on the new iPad Pro while his underling demonstrated it. Thomas said it runs at 60 fps at the full retina resolution with no upscaling, it didn’t look that great to me.
Adobe’s VP of design Jamie Myrold and Chantelle (no last name or title given) demonstrated the new version of Photoshop, they repeatedly insisted that this was “the real Photoshop” on the new iPad. It isn’t available yet, but it was clearly frustrating to work with for an on-stage demonstration. Chantelle eventually swapped the same image she was working on to an augmented reality experience with depth between the layers in a separate program they’re calling “Project Arrow.” Both products are supposed to be available in 2019.
Phil Schiller narrated this other video introducing the new iPad Pro tablets:
If I were going to swap my laptop for an iPad I would get a Mac Mini to handle the desktop computing tasks that the iPad can’t.
The new iPad Pro’s are up for order today with general availability on the 7th.
Guess where all the recycled aluminum for the Macs comes from? The runoff from iPads and iPhones. As a Philadelphian I will now refer to these new Macs made with recycled aluminum as “Scrapple Macs.”
I’m disappointed that the Macs on display here have 128GB SSDs by default. I believe that many people will need more storage, and then they’ll have to use an external disk.
Apple’s folks talked up the capabilities of the new MacBook Air for expansion through devices like external GPU kits to bring actual graphics acceleration capabilities, those external enclosures are expensive as-heck and they oddly didn’t mention them for the Mini.
The iMac, MacBook, and Mac Pro are now the most out of date Macs according to the Mac Rumors Buyer’s Guide at 512 days since the last update for the iMac and MacBook, and a whopping 1777 days since the Mac Pro was updated in 2013.
The iPad Mini hasn’t really been updated since 2015! It was rumored to receive an update at this event, but didn’t end up getting one. That size is still interesting to me, although now I would be more likely to use a 12.9″ iPad Pro as a laptop replacement.
These custom ARM chips that Apple is developing really make me wish for a smaller Mac single-board-computer targeted towards the hobbyists that originally made the first Apple computers. I believe that Apple’s A-series would be perfect for these applications and would outclass the competition in build quality and ease-of-use, even though they would certainly not be cheaper.
I have felt the urge to switch to an iPad for all of my photography and writing needs for some time, I sold my iPad Mini earlier this year and regretted that decision because there hasn’t been a good device to replace it with. All of these devices are great, but they are also far out of reach of everyone. I hope that more of the new iPad Pro features make their way to a new iPad Cheap next year.
The XR is like the XS and XS Max in many ways, except the XR is missing the 2nd telephoto camera system of the X and previous Plus-sized devices which can be useful for composing shots or getting superior “portrait mode” photos in daylight. I specify daylight, because the telephoto (zoom) camera system makes portrait shots almost unusable at night on the XS and XS Max. The telephoto system used for portraits on the XS and XS Max captures less light (f2.4) than the “wide-angle” (default, non-zoomed, f1.8) lens.
There are some other differences between the XR and XS/XS Max, they’re important, but the camera situation is probably the biggest technical difference for most people.
The iPhone XR screen is bigger than the XS, X, and all prior phones, but not as big as the Max,
The XR has better battery life than any other iPhone
Way more color options for the chassis you’ll never see unless you’re a rich person who doesn’t put an iPhone with a glass back and glass front in a case.
The LCD screen has a lower resolution and is mostly worse than the XS and XS Max’s OLED screen, but still good.
The XR is less water resistant than the XS and XS Max.
The XR has less RAM than the XS and XS Max. The XR has 3 GB vs the XS and XS Max’s 4 GB.
The XR has different price tiers for storage, it’s “just” $50 to bump it from 64GB to 128GB. It’s $100 to bump the XS and XS Max from 64GB to 256GB.
The XR has no 3D Touch, instead you can “long press” to get 3D Touch actions in situations where long-pressing didn’t do anything before. For example, on previous iPhones you could tap and hold an icon on the home screen to make them start jiggling to be able to delete or move apps and put them into folders. iPhones that have 3D Touch also let you press forcefully on icons to bring up a small menu of quick actions for that app, like jumping straight into a selfie mode with the camera. The XR can’t 3D Touch and will only switch into the jiggling icons mode, it won’t let you open up the quick action menu for each app.
The XS and XS Max have better cellular radios that can handle faster speeds (“Gigabit-class LTE”)
The XR has slightly bigger borders around the screen.
The glass on the back of the XR’s is less durable than the glass on the back of the XS and XS Max.
Here’s what is the same
Same camera array on the front with the same Face ID system that doesn’t work in landscape mode
Same A12 system-on-a-chip
Similar goofy notch at the top which either doesn’t bother you at all, stops bothering you within a few days, or will constantly haunt you because you can’t let anything go.
Still more expensive than the previous generation of devices were when they were released
Same Qi “Wireless” (contact) charging
Same shitty 5-watt charger in the box
Overall, I would recommend the XR to anyone who wants to save money and is coming from a non Plus-sized 6/7/8 or earlier iPhone. The situation for people who had a Plus-sized iPhone is a little bit more difficult. The iPhone 6/7/8 Plus’ have two cameras for portrait and zoom, and a higher resolution “Retina” LCD (1920×1080) than the iPhone XR’s “Liquid Retina” screen (1792×828).
Specs aren’t everything, the XR’s screen is by all accounts fine, and not everyone would choose to pay a base price of $1000 over the XR’s $750 just to get the extra camera, worse battery life, fewer color options, and a shinier chassis (the XR has an aluminum band of metal around the edges instead of steel). Joanna Stern can’t even think of many people to recommend the XS and XS Max to over the XR. I’m really, really, into photography and it’s complicated even for me because I love taking good photos at night and the XR takes better portrait photos at night.
Still, still, these new iPhones are too expensive. Nick Heer:
But there is one thing eating at me with this new iPhone lineup: the starting price for a current model year iPhone is now $50 more than last year, and $100 more than two years’ prior. It’s as though they’ve dropped the entry-level model and are starting at what was previously Plus model pricing. In Canada, the difference is even more pronounced — for the first time, you cannot get a current model year iPhone for under $1,000. The iPhone XR might be the least-expensive iPhone Apple launched this year, but it is by no means a budget device.
It might be the right business strategy for Apple to keep raising their iPhone prices but it’s bad for the people buying them.
Easily the most impressive feature of iOS 12 is the integration of Workflow into the operating system as the recently-rebranded Siri Shortcuts. Apple’s on-stage demos of Siri Shortcuts have consisted of people explaining a half-dozen different actions these shortcuts perform, as funneled through one simple command. However, Siri shortcuts are also tremendously helpful at drilling down into an application to complete one task without opening that application when it would be inconvenient to do so.
For example, when I’m playing Clash Royale, which has been filling a strategic hole in my heart for some time, I often want to skip Overcast to the next chapter of the podcast I’m listening to. You can only take so many SquareSpace ads.
Before iOS 12, this meant flipping over to Overcast in the multitasking switcher, expanding the current podcast to fill the whole screen, and then tapping the next chapter arrow. Finally, I’d flip back to the game to see that I had lost one or all of my towers and the game was probably over.
In iOS 12,with Overcast 5, you can configure a list of shortcuts within the app to handle practically any function of the app from changing the playback speed to skipping the current chapter. That changes the scenario to one step, “Hey Siri, Overcast next chapter.” Siri isn’t always fast, but she is definitely faster than swapping to Overcast app and attempting to do the same thing.
There is a lot more functionality in Shortcuts that I haven’t even tried yet, and this example was only simplifying one task into one command instead of several tasks, but it feels obvious at this point that these programmable actions can alleviate some of the burden placed on users to adapt to iOS.
My main gripe with the Shortcuts functionality as it exists today, and with Siri in general, is that Siri takes over the whole screen when it isn’t necessary to do so. Many Siri activities that aren’t even shortcuts only necessitate a small confirmation that the requested action took place. The iPhone 6 Plus-sized devices (and especially the XS Max) cry out for a small window of the screen to pop-up a Siri response, then nobody will miss out on their game of Clash Royale just to skip a podcast ad.
Part of the problem that causes Apple to dedicate the entire screen to Siri may be the low confidence we all have in Siri to hear us correctly. Even today I couldn’t get my (Series 1) Apple Watch to understand a simple request for a timer (CW: misogynistic slur in text). The misunderstanding turned the request for a timer into a nasty message that I was surprised to read, then a few tries later it became a request for information about a movie I don’t want to see. Finally, I gave up and set the timer myself. On the iPhone a full-screen Siri response gives you the ability to see and edit the request if it was misunderstood like my 20 minute timer was on the Watch.
Once Apple’s confidence in Siri is higher, we may get that partial-screen response to our requests. I recommend keeping up with Shortcutsvia MacStories.
After I hit publish on that last article a friend asked a question that I’ve been thinking about: What do you do if you don’t want to use a phone with iOS or Android?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a good option today. WebOS from the now defunct Palm and Windows Phone from Microsoft were the only two big alternatives.
WebOS had a tremendously different design from today’s iOS and Android, but it has now changed hands between Palm, then HP, and now LG.
Windows Phone… well it looked and felt like an evolution of the Zune’s operating system, but I liked some things about that style. I had hoped that Microsoft would keep at it until they hit it out of the park with a winner, but it’s been forever since there was life in that platform.
If there were a complete mobile operating system that could compete with Android and iOS on the user experience level, and somehow had a ton of support from app and game developers, it would also need a strong hardware partner to develop an amazing pocket computer. I don’t see that happening.
Even Amazon’s Fire Phone got cancelled, and Amazon already had a strong competitor to Google’s app store.
…I now believe it more likely than not that the software giant will in fact someday sell a Surface phone.
God help us all.
Still, that was in 2016 and here we are, two years later, and Microsoft’s leadership must not feel like they have the right device or the right distance from Windows Phone’s failure to even tease a return.
I’ve obviously missed my regular Apple event day coverage for this year’s iPhone and Watch announcement (YouTube link), there was a family emergency that necessitated lots of travel. I won’t dwell on that emergency much except to say that if you enjoy reading Nuclear Monster at all I would appreciate any contributions you can make either by sharing posts you like with your friends and family, through donations, or by buying a shirt.
Thank you to everyone who has helped with that already.
Nevertheless, Apple didn’t wait around for me and has announced and released a new iPhone in two sizes, the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, the Apple Watch Series 4, and a third new iPhone, the iPhone XR. The XR is at first glance a “budget” device that is somehow still very expensive (starting at $750) and has odd trade offs compared to the XS line.
The new XS phones are supposed to be pronounced “ten S,” and the XR is supposed to be pronounced “ten R” I don’t think anyone is going to go out of their way to do that. Those names are extremely silly and I hope nobody is very fussy about pronouncing them “correctly,” still, the devices and prices for these phones are still interesting.
iPhone XS & iPhone XS Max: Ridiculously Named, Too Expensive
That trend kind of went out of the window with the 6, 6S, 7, and 8 phones that all looked very much alike. Apple skipped the big design changes until finally we got the iPhone X, last year. That phone finally ditched the home button on the “chin” in favor of an almost entirely edge-to-edge screen with a notch replacing the “forehead” of the phone and new swipe gestures replacing the Home button. The 8 and 8 Plus were the “new” phones released alongside the X that kept the old 6, 6S, and 7 style with a traditional home button for anyone who didn’t want to spend $1000 on a new iPhone X.
This year the XS, XS Max, and XR are all styled after the iPhone X. The iPhoneXR is a bit bigger than the XS and last year’s X with a 6.1 inch screen. The iPhoneXS is almost exactly the same size as last year’s X, but with a slightly different camera bump that knocks out some case compatibility.
The XS Max is very similar in terms of physical dimensions to the Plus phones like the iPhone 8 Plus. This year’s phones are all gesture-based, no home buttons to be found. The XS and XS Max also come in a new color, gold.
We won’t know until next September if there will be some significant external design changes that bring us back to the “big design change” year followed by the “incremental improvement to the internal hardware” year. Honestly, the external design is not as important as we approach the inevitable full-rectangles of screen with so few trade-offs for usability and style. Apple makes the most appealing designs to those rectangles and with the software of those rectangles. The next biggest change just might be losing the notch and putting those sensors behind the screen.
The XS phones are very expensive pocket computers at $1000, and $1100 for the XS Max. Reviewers are trying to understand how anyone could justify that upgrade from an iPhone X or earlier, and it is a huge upgrade from some of the older series of devices. Less so for anyone with the iPhone X, and Apple says they’re also trying to make sure these iPhones can last longer, but that doesn’t make the price right.
There used to be a sentiment that these iPhones are for everyone. If you’re the heir to a fortune in fashion, or someone working 9-5 at retail, the iPhone was the iPhone. You’d have the same one as everyone else if you bought the top of the line in any particular year. This supposedly worked the same way that everyone could buy the same coca-cola from Coke.
All that went out the window when the product started exclusively targeting a luxury market with incredibly high prices. The poorer end of the market is now targeted with the questionable “iPhone Upgrade Program” that turns an iPhone purchase into an installment plan that turns Apple Stores into Rent-A-Center.
It’s worth emphasizing — as I do every year — that normal people do not upgrade their phones after a single year. Most don’t upgrade after two years. They upgrade when their old phone breaks or gets too slow.
His conclusion for upgraders also seems spot on:
Anyone upgrading to the iPhone XS from an iPhone 7 or older is getting a great upgrade in dozens of ways, and the camera system is just one of them.
…for the people who own an iPhone X who are considering an upgrade to the XS, to my mind, the camera system is the one and only reason to do it. There are always edge cases. Someone who is a frequent international traveler might consider it worth upgrading just to get the dual SIM support. I’m sure some number of iPhone X owners will upgrade just to get the gold model. But for most people, I’m convinced the camera system is the reason to think about it.
Reviewers are focusing on those camera upgrades, rightly so. The reportedly 32% larger sensor that Gruber found out about is huge news for these tiny cameras to bring in more light and take better (or even acceptable) photos in situations that would have produced garbage with the iPhone X and earlier phones. The example galleries and reviews from both pro and amateur photographers prove the quality of these new camera systems in the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR.
The Other Camera Option
If you’re willing to carry another camera with your phone, even a small point and shoot like Sony’s RX100 series cameras will have a dramatically larger sensor that might be a better value than trying to keep up with iPhone upgrades right now.
I’m (still) not going to be comparing the iPhone XS to an interchangeable lens camera because portrait mode is not a replacement for those, it’s about pulling them out less. That said, this is closest its ever been.
You’d miss out on quick social sharing, and live photos that grab a few moments of video before and after the still photo. The camera makers’ apps are all garbage, but you can import JPEGs from an SD card relatively quickly to any iOS device using Apple’s SD Card dongle.
RAW photos might still be too slow to import over the wire, but the rub there is that you can now take and edit RAW photos on iOS. So, that might work for you the other way.
Photography is important to me, it might be the thing I care about most in an iPhone after communicating with friends and family. I’m still not sure if I can even be the person that drags around a separate camera anymore, but I think it’s a legitimate option for some people who love the iOS ecosystem and aren’t interested in keeping up with iPhone camera technology. The mobile camera sensors can only be so big, the built-in processing technology is getting more impressive but I’m not sure how impressive they can get compared to almost any small camera.
Recently, I picked up my almost decade-old Nikon entry-level DSLR, the D3000, and the shots it takes are just so much better than any phone camera. They’re not the easiest to get, I’m out of touch with the camera controls and the autofocus (AF) lock-on takes forever on that old DSLR, but I could get an upgraded body of that same camera line use the same 35mm lens, and blaze on with much better AF. That D3000 has uniquely terrible auto-focus speed.
I’ve been testing iOS on old devices for six years, and I’ve never seen a release that has actually improved performance on old devices. At best, updates like iOS 6, iOS 9, and iOS 10 didn’t make things much worse; at worst, updates like iOS 7 and iOS 8 made old devices feel like old devices. Anyone using an older device can safely upgrade to iOS 12 without worrying about speed, and that’s a big deal. You’ll notice an improvement most of the time, even on newer devices (my iPad Air 2, which had started to feel its age running iOS 11, feels great with iOS 12).
The iPhone is very compelling as a camera, but the high prices for the XS models are a great time to jump ship off the upgrade schedule. If you need to stick with an iPhone for more time to try and grind out more value, there has never been a better time to try the other camera option.
AppleCare+ in 2018
I have to give up my iPhone 7 Plus this year to another family member, the 256GB iPhone XS Max I was looking at to replace my iPhone is $1500 after tax with Applecare+. That’s the $200 iPhone insurance program from Apple. I did a cartoon “rub my eyes and look again” after I saw that number.
Before this update, Applecare would help you recover from your iPhone being stolen as long as you had a police report. Now, Apple won’t let you get a new iPhone if yours is stolen unless you also have ponied up another $100 for “Theft and Loss” coverage. That would bring the total to $300, but I’ve never had an iPhone stolen or lost to the point where I can’t find it.
Apple has one more caveat to this new Theft and Loss insurance, it’s null and void unless their Find My iPhone feature is enabled.
If Wishes Were Cameras
My wish is for something less like a DSLR and more like the (relatively) huge CMOS sensor of the Sony RX100 but running iOS. That isn’t happening, Apple would probably never do that because their goal is to make a great phone that is also a great camera due to the powerful custom A-series of chips processing the image data from the biggest sensors and lenses they can fit into the size of the camera bump. It’s so important to them that they still have a bump. Even with that pimple on the back of the latest iPhones, the photos their tiny camera sensors make might still look like watercolor paintings when you zoom in on them. Cropping a photo is so disappointing with any camera phone, and this year may fix that.
The iPhone XS Max vs The Galaxy Note 9
The iPhone 6/7/8 Plus-sized iPhone XS Max is very interesting. It has the same style of the XS and X, notch and all, but in the larger form-factor giving us an incredibly huge 6.5 inch screen. The old Plus phones had a 5.5 inch screen, but the new phones aren’t any wider so the measurement is a little odd to compare.
I liked the old Plus phones’ landscape mode features. The home screen would reconfigure for landscape mode display horizontally. Unfortunately, Apple has apparently dropped this feature from the XS Max.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 has gone in the opposite direction and offered more tablet-like features in a similar size of device as Apple’s Plus and XS Max iPhones.
That Galaxy Note 9 includes a stylus, has more storage at a lower price than the iPhone XS Max, and expandable storage through Micro SD cards so you’re not locked into paying hundreds of dollars to Samsung for upgrading. It also has a 19 hour battery life according to CNET’s reviewer, Jessica Dolcourt.
I would never buy a Samsung device, they’re a scummy business with an operating system from the world’s largest advertising publisher. Their camera app sounds like complete garbage, Dolcourt says:
The AI software analyzes a scene and quickly detects if you’re shooting a flower, food, a dog, a person or something else entirely. There are 20 options, including snowflakes, cityscapes, fire — you get it. Then the camera optimizes white balance, saturation and contrast to make photos pop.
It works fine, and you’ll see some big differences when photographing your lunch for Instagram photos. But the scene optimizer often takes a beat to kick in, and you can’t dismiss the suggestions with a swipe the way you can on the Huawei P20 Pro. It’s either on, or off.
The last thing I want to do with a camera app is fight with it to decide how I want the scene to be shot and processed. Samsung’s software sounds like a complete nightmare that overrides your thinking about a scene to provide what Samsung thinks is best versus Apple (and Google’s Pixel phones) hands-off “this is what a better camera would do” approach.
This is actually a standard Android feature, where apps you need to look at (like YouTube or Google Maps) will minimize themselves into little windows in the corner when you exit them. But the Note 9 is one of the few phones where this isn’t annoying, just because there’s so much screen real estate to play with. It’s also why the Galaxy’s split-screen mode actually works—two apps running side-by-side doesn’t look terrible at this size
Murphy also wrote about Samsung’s Stylus, the S-Pen, which has interesting features in addition to being useful for drawing and taking notes:
What really makes a Note a Note (according to Samsung) is its built-in stylus, the S Pen. The new version (which comes in a striking shade of yellow on the blue version of the phone), has learned some new tricks. Tapping on its button can trigger different functions in different apps. In the camera, it can be used as a remote shutter; in PowerPoint, it can advance slides.
The iPhone XS Max has gone in a completely different direction. Apple doesn’t have a stylus that works at this scale, and they’re rejecting the notion that you should use any iPhone as a small tablet, even at the XS Max’s enormous 6.5 inch screen size.
The Max’s 6.5? screen cries out for stylus support. At least it does for me and others who would benefit from this capability It is definitely big enough, and the resolution is plenty high. It would be the perfect portable wireless notepad, a use case which the current iPad Pro sizes aren’t really cut out for.
Apple isn’t doing enough to take advantage of all the extra space. The Max just feels like a blown-up iPhone, when it could be a new sort of computer. Unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Note or even Apple’s iPad, you can’t place apps side by side or float a video in the corner.
If they have the same value in their own store then there is no excuse to not include the faster, better, adapter.
Just include the twelve watt adapter, Apple.
All of Apple’s modern laptops, the MacBook and MacBook Pro, only have USB-C ports. You can’t charge or connect any iPhone to them with the included USB-to-Lightning cable, it has a type-A plug on the end. Apple charges $19 for a USB-C-to-Lightning cable.
No Apple product discussion would be complete talking about iCloud storage pricing. The iPhone uses this storage to back itself up at night, back up your apps, and most importantly to back up your photos.
iCloud’s free tier is still only a paltry 5 gigabytes. That is nothing. For a dollar a month they will give you 50 gigs and there are people who will never pay that twelve dollars a year just because they’re too cheap or can’t understand why they need it until they see an ad from Google that tells them exactly what they’re missing out on because their iPhone can’t offload any more photos and videos to the cloud to free up space on the device to take new photos and videos.
The worst scenario of all is when someone walks into an Apple store with a broken phone and wants to know where their photos of their family and friends are and the person supporting them has to tell them that the photos were lost when their phone died. That’s an awful experience to pawn off on retail employees because $12 dollars a year is more important to Apple’s bottom line.
Pennies Down the Line
When there’s no more free-space on an iPhone, you can’t load more apps and games, take more photos or videos, and the device’s performance might suffer. Upgrades become difficult. Even with all the app-thinning that Apple’s done to make older iPhones with less storage more useful, I think it’s absolutely rotten that today’s XS line doesn’t include expandable storage. Today’s 64 gigs might be tomorrow’s 16GB, rendering the iPhone you want to give to your family useless even if it was the top-of-the-line for the day.
For the past day or so I’ve been trying to use a five-year-old 16GB iPhone 5S in 2018. It’s not a good experience. iOS 12 has made these old iPhones snappy and responsive, which is fantastic. You just can’t load…anything onto the phone. I’ve run out of space almost instantly for the apps I need to do everything. Apps that include giant hundred-megabyte frameworks to operate can’t fit.
The iPhone helpfully offloads as many apps as possible to free-up space but there is only so much it can do. I don’t recommend that experience to anyone. If Apple truly wants to start making their iPhones last longer, they need to introduce expandable storage.
It’s clear that Apple put a lot of thought and work into these new devices, I haven’t even talked about the better OLED screens with 120hz touch detection, or the improved FaceID system, but I’m also very concerned about iPhone prices.
Yet to be reviewed is the iPhone XR, which has the same great wide angle camera as the iPhone XS, the same A12 system-on-a-chip, better battery life, and an almost edge-to-edge screen that unfortunately has a lower resolution than my iPhone 7 Plus. The iPhone XR is also missing 3D Touch and the telephoto camera from the iPhone XS.
Unless you have money to burn, I would suggest that anyone on an iPhone 8 or iPhone X wait until next September at the earliest. The iPhone XS Max is a new size in the iPhone 6/7/8 Plus physical range, and if you hated how small the iPhone X was that would be the only good reason to upgrade to this year’s Max.
For people like me, with an iPhone 7 Plus, the 6.1 inch iPhone XR might be the right device. I’m very curious to read those reviews when that embargo lifts before they’re released on the 26th of October. Like I said above, the XR has better battery life, but the same wide-angle camera, processor, and a similar notched design like the XS and XS Max. However, it also has less RAM, 3 gigs, to the 4 gigs of the XS and XS Max. That means that web pages may need to be reloaded when you navigate away from them, apps might unload sooner when you switch to another one.
The XR might not support as many versions of iOS down the line. The iPhone 5S is 5 years old, and is the oldest iPhone that is getting iOS12. The 5S was also released alongside the 5C, and the XR picks a note of the 5C up and gets a lot of color options.
The XR also has an oddly lower resolution than the 7 Plus despite having a larger screen, it’s a very strange product.
Anyone who has stuck with the iPhone 5S or 6 and 6 Plus due to price should wait until reviews are out for the iPhone XR.
These high prices really made me understand why Apple has stopped selling last year’s iPhone X entirely. The X is still a great mobile camera upgrade from any older series of iPhone, still a good processor upgrade, and anyone who got a cheaper iPhone X could use another camera for great photos if they have one laying around.
When I bought my iPhone 7 Plus in 2016 it was $870 for the 128GB tier and $1000 after AppleCare+. That insurance was $130. That was a lot. $1250 for the equivalent tier of iPhone XS Max and about $1500 including AppleCare+ and tax in 2018 is ridiculous.
The XR is also $50 more at $750 than last year’s 8.
Maybe I’m getting old, but do you remember how computers were supposed to be less expensive to purchase as time went on?
The materials Apple are using are premium in these X-series of devices, but maybe they’re too premium if they’re what is jacking up the price of an equivalent tier of phone by $380 and the insurance by 70 bucks over the course of two years.
Maybe we don’t need a glass back on a phone. Even though Apple claims the iPhone XS’ back is more durable than last year’s iPhone X, it still breaks easier than the equivalent metal. Joanna Stern’s review unit broke within a week!
Apple’s answer to general economic concerns is that they’re still selling the iPhone 7, 7 Plus, and iPhone 8, 8 Plus for lower prices. This really speaks to how great those devices are with iOS 12
The iPhone X doesn’t exist anymore and you can’t buy the iPhone X new or used from Apple. It’s pretty clear that Apple isn’t sure a person in the store would be able to understand the differences between the XS and X.
Keeping old devices around past their regular shelf-life is Tim Cook’s schtick. If you can, keeping your devices useful for yourself or giving them to a friend or family member is the best thing to do today.
Apple announced that they’re killing the affiliate program, citing the improved discovery offered by the new App Store. (Music, books, movies, and TV remain.) It’s hard to read this in any other way than “We went from seeing a microscopic amount of value in third party editorial to, we now see no value.” I genuinely have no idea what TouchArcade is going to do. Through thick and thin, and every curveball the industry threw at us, we always had App Store affiliate revenue- Which makes a lot of sense as we drive a ton of purchases for Apple. I don’t know how the takeaway from this move can be seen as anything other than Apple extending a massive middle finger to sites like TouchArcade, AppShopper, and many others who have spent the last decade evangelizing the App Store and iOS gaming- Particularly on the same day they announced record breaking earnings of $53.3 billion and a net quarterly profit of $11.5 billion.
Affiliate marketing is the financial driver behind sites like Wirecutter, TouchArcade, and most likely as important to all of the journalistic enterprises that you see with daily deal roundups like Kotaku and 9to5Mac. The largest sites are able to separate all advertising and affiliate marketing business away from their editorial staff so that they can remain independent and firewalled from the business as much as possible. Sites with single-digit numbers of writers and editors aren’t able to maintain a firewall, but I think their readers understand the situation.
Affiliate marketing would be better if Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other companies’ employees were unionized. Collective bargaining seems like a foreign idea to most of the younger retail workers I’ve talked to and Amazon these companies treat their employees as infinitely replaceable. If employees hear anything about collective bargaining, it’s from training videos that companies like Best Buy force their employees to watch. These videos lie about union behavior and repudiate the power employees could have if they were bargaining as a group. The videos say that employees are better off negotiating as individuals, one-on-one with management. As if managers weren’t trained to exploit their employees, and empowered by the entire corporate management apparatus to do so. One-on-one is more like a thousand managers versus the one employee.
Traditional display advertising isn’t valuable enough to pay bills. I run an ad blocker, we all get the prompts to stop doing it, and we choose not to. Ad payloads slow our reading by wasting bandwidth, and the advertising publishing industry doesn’t give a fuck about our privacy or do anything to stop malicious payloads from being delivered to us.
Ongoing subscription donations, or Patreon support, are nice if you can get them, but it is a difficult thing to maintain on the ground. Any time you publish an update (to any kind of subscription service) there is an opportunity that subscribers will retract ongoing pledges and unsubscribe. Every payment processor and middleman would love it for all of us to spend our entire lives begging for money, but it’s difficult to find time to write and work if you’re spending all of your time on maintaining a subscription pledge system like Patreon.
Apple has been absorbing writers for a few years in order to create curated articles on their App Store, but those articles lack any sort of attribution as to who wrote them. Maybe dozens of hands touch each one, who knows. That byline situation is a choice, but by business need there is almost certainly no editorial independence for those writers at Apple. Without editorial independence and a byline those writers may have a difficult time finding work once they tire of working there with nothing to show in their portfolio, or when Apple decides to stop curating their app store to this degree and there aren’t any sites left to write for.
There just isn’t a good solution for independent writers and sites like TouchArcade within capitalism today unless they have a massive wave of popularity supporting them on Patreon or incredibly small operating costs like Daring Fireball with exactly one writer. I’ve enjoyed reading TouchArcade and hope Hodapp finds a path forward without any kind of affiliate marketing.